TAMPA The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have started games notoriously slowly this season.
Those beginnings are not part of the script.
Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson, like most NFL coaches, spends all week figuring out which plays will have the most success against opposing defenses. Olson then scripts 15 plays he intends Tampa Bay's offense to run right away.
While players may not always execute Olson's script, Tampa Bay (1-1) hopes for better first-half success against Atlanta (1-1) at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
Tampa Bay's offense has not produced more than seven first-quarter points in 56 straight games. This season, the offense has produced a single field goal in the first half of two games.
"I don't think it's hurting us," Olson said of scripting plays. "I just think when we go back and look at it, whether it be a false start, whether it be someone missing an assignment, whether it be someone getting beat physically, we just have not been able to stay on track."
The road map begins each week with 15 plays.
Olson scripts the first 15 plays his team will run on first and second downs in each game, determining which plays will give his team the most success. If Tampa Bay faces a third-down situation, Olson switches and calls something from his playbook.
Those first 15 plays are developed after Olson and his staff watch tape of every game an opponent played last year and this season.
"It's all based on percentages," Olson said. "Here is our formation, this is what we do, this is what we're expecting them to do based on percentages. We know when we line up in this formation, on this down and distance, 42 percent of the time you're getting this, 28 percent of the time you're getting this and 13 percent of the time you're getting this.
"When we go Friday at practice, we're going to run a script against this defense. When we go to the walk-through the next day, we script it against their second most common defense and then we talk about the openers the night before. You could get this, if you get this, you got this, and if it's anything else, react."
The purpose of scripting 15 initial plays is twofold.
Olson's first goal is to narrow the focus of his players. He wants players to envision specific plays prior to each game. In knowing what plays Olson intends to run, players are supposed to be more relaxed.
"It helps because it gives you an idea," running back Earnest Graham said. "Usually, if it's 15 plays, that's a good two or three series worth of plays. Nothing is going to be exact.
"It gives you an idea about what kind of looks we're going to see and to be prepared so you don't have any mistakes in the beginning of the game. It gives us a chance to start fast."
The second purpose of scripting plays is to see how defenses react.
If Olson calls a specific play on second-and-4, for instance, he can see how the opposing defense reacts. Based on that reaction, Olson can line up in the same formation later in the game, but potentially run a different play with the hopes of a huge gain.
If Tampa Bay starts accumulating penalties, or loses yardage on plays, the Bucs will go off script and resume the plan later.
"The first 15 sometimes can go into the later parts of the game," coach Raheem Morris said. "We just kind of continued that script the other weekend. We got some first-fifteen plays in the third quarter, so you never really leave it. It is just about execution and our guys believing in the plan and going out there trusting what they are able to do.
"Our touchdown play that got called back because of that shift in the motion (Mike Williams' 17-yard catch against Minnesota) was part of our first fifteen last week. That thing worked to perfection except we messed up the motion. Those are the things that we've got to get better at."
Olson thinks Tampa Bay eventually will have first-half success.
He just needs players to stick to the script.
"It hasn't worked out, obviously, but I don't think we'll ever change that to just go in blind and start calling things off-the-cuff," Olson said. "I don't think that helps the players. We say we want to stay on track. We say we want to eliminate negative yard plays.
"This is how we stay on track."
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